By Brian Andrew Tully, Esq.
I remember being in elementary school and hearing how a brick layer makes a nice living. So that was my plan in 1977. Little did I know, however, that I would spend the next 20 years learning how to love and respect my Grandparents starting with the house right next door.
I grew up in Malverne or exit 17S on the Southern State as I used to describe it to people. Everyone knows the Southern State Parkway so that was an easy way to describe the small village I grew up in. I was the middle son of three boys and our house was right next door to my Mom’s parents, Fred and Audrey. We called them Tina and Pop Pop. Tina wasn’t her real name but it was short for Serpentina which was a sea monster game we would all play around their bed as my Grandma would try to eat us. Pop Pop worked in Sunnyside, Queens at the Amtrak facility until he retired in the 1980’s. I remember the last lunch Tina made for Pop Pop on his last day of work. Boy, did she cry. I spent so much quality time with my maternal grandparents right next door. From watching the Love Boat every Saturday night, to borrowing that needed roll of toilet paper, to changing light bulbs and the annual removal of the screens and air conditioners to popping corn on the stove and catching it in a bowl and also getting a penny for every weed I picked. Pop Pop taught me how to use tools and a lawn mower and they even taught me how to swing a golf club in their back yard. They loved golf. Other than eating cheese and crackers at their small, formica kitchen table, they loved golf and I loved growing up with them right next door. The path between our two houses was narrow and worn down to just dirt and some stones.
My wonderful memories, however, soon turned to “Tina has to go in for another operation”. Tina was a fighter. The old German in her would never give up. She had a total of 5 cancer operations starting in the 1962 and I don’t ever recall hearing her original voice as she lost the first half of her larynx way back then. Tina was a saver, and asked a lot of her Pop Pop. He did all he could as we all expected Tina to ‘go’ first. They were at their favorite vacation spot at Sunny Hill Resort in the Catskills and enjoyed golf and actually danced that last day. The next morning my Mom called me to say Pop Pop had passed during the night from congestive heart failure. I rushed to their home and was just standing in the garage where we had such memories when my parents brought only Tina home from upstate. He danced with his wife and played golf his last day on this earth and I think that’s wonderful. I had just graduated law school when Pop Pop died and I had to miss the first days of my Bar review prep course and that was ok. Tina fought on from 1997 through 2004. She had individual mastectomies and her lymph nodes and more of her larynx were also removed due to cancer. Tina was able to stay in her home with an aide for a little while before it was decided that hospice had to be brought in. That was rough. I will always remember the strong humidifiers in the bedroom that were necessary because of the tracheotomy, right where we used to play Serpentina.
My father’s parents, Alice and Andy, lived in Lynbrook. About 8 minutes away. My dad was the 4th oldest of 11 children. There was always something going at “Catherine Street” as we called their house. Usually Sundays after Church we would go with the fresh Malverne bakery selections and sit at the big dining room table with the white lace table cloth that still had some of the roll’s crumbs from the Sunday before. My youngest aunts and uncles aren’t that much older than me and the oldest are now in their 70’s. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was the meeting place for many Tully’s and many great occasions. The kids table for Thanksgiving and Easter was soon added to the adults table and the result was a large L that twisted in height and shape from the dining room past Grandpa’s office and into the living room. Grandpa was a lawyer in Brooklyn and then Malverne and I have his Bar admission hanging in my law office, it’s from 1936. Grandma was his assistant for years as I’m sure the older children continued to help raise the younger ones. I remember fondly the big meals and the cast iron frying pans that were an inch thick with ‘flavor’ and the butter that was never closed up in the fridge. It didn’t have to be closed up as the butter went real fast in that house. I also remember family. Lots of family, laughs and games. Grandma and Grandpa were the cherished and respected focus of all those Tully celebrations. My cousins and I can each tell of a friend or two that wished they were a part of the Tully family as we were growing up. Alice and Andy were inseparable and I will never forget it. In the 1980’s, they downsized from their big three floor home to a ‘cabin’ in Rosendale, NY. They spent their youth in those mountains and felt it best to get back up there while they still could. It lasted a little while until they returned to various apartments back on the Island. I was in my second year of college when I stopped by to visit them at the Archbishop McGann apartments in Oceanside. Grandpa sat me down and said that he and Grandma thought I should be the lawyer. I thought I was heading to the police force but what they said resonated deeply within me and it changed my future.
Grandma’s dialysis and blindness soon became too much for Grandpa and his old, red Cadillac with the back seat filled with folded New York Times, so the ambulettes had to be called in when the local aunts and uncles couldn’t help. It wasn’t easy on any of the family. The care fell on the children even more with calls each day to help or bring something by the house. I remember seeing a big smile on my Grandpa, maybe even trying to crack a joke as I watched my dad help him into bed one night. He suffered through colon cancer and also required hospice services. Grandpa only lived six months after Grandma passed away. I will never forget him trying to kneel at her casket as the sob erupted and his knee gave way.
They didn’t get to meet a lot of the great-grandchildren but each one of them know who Alice and Andy are and that Tully legacy of family and respect will live on forever.
I became a Lawyer because Grandpa and Grandma said I should and that I would be good at it. What I didn’t realize is that through my life there was only one direction for me. I was never going to be a brick layer. What I didn’t realize is that my childhood and teenage years were gratefully focused on my amazing Grandparents, those Grandparents right next door and those I looked forward to seeing every Sunday. So, yes, law was a choice but elder law was not. It was natural for me to continue to be with and help other Grandmas and Grandpas. Looking back, I can say with certainty that I didn’t choose elder law, it chose me.